Tribute to a Dear Sister
We have experienced the misfortune of losing two dear sisters in quick succession: Meena Akka and Sundari Akka.
When I recollect my memories of Sundari Akka, the qualities which come to my mind are many. But there are two which strike my mind the most. The first is her independent nature. Until the last few months of her life she was living alone in her flat at Warren Road, despite her old age and ill health. When I used to tell her to keep somebody to assist, she will say don’t worry about me, Karpagambal will take care of me. I also recollect that as long as she was healthy she used to walk the entire distance from Warren Road to Kapaleeswarar temple, sometimes in the hot sun because she felt that the auto rickshaw drivers were literally taking her for a ride (pun intended).
The other quality which readily comes to my mind is her nature to help everybody, near and far, who were in need of help. Although she didn’t have children, she has been with all her sisters when they needed her during the delivery of their children and she was more of a mother than sister to them – such was the loving care she bestowed on them. This quality of living for others extended to the people outside blood relation. Two such examples of persons whom Sethu Athimber and Sundari Akka loved, cherished and nurtured are their adopted daughter Usha and a boy by the name of Sugumar. She truly did justice to the Sanskrit proverb “Paropakarartham Idam Shareeram”. It was quite fitting that Usha and their children took care of Sundari Akka in the evening of her life with great devotion.
Sundari Akka was very affectionate to me. She never regarded me as her younger sister. She always used to consult me and go by my advice. As long as I am alive I can never forget my dear Sundari Akka. May her soul rest in eternal peace and bless the AVR clan. Om shanti.
Kaushik’s memories of Sundari Chitti
Sundari Chitti channeled my father’s spirit into me, in ways that sustain me to this day.
July 18, 2014. Exactly six years ago to this day. Appa had just passed away the previous night. I spent a night when my body was wracked with searing pain. Not just emotional grief, but shots of acute physical pain, of a kind I had never experienced before, shooting diagonally across my chest, from my left shoulder to my right hip. I would periodically doze off to sleep, periodically get up to send a note about his passing to one friend, then another, desperate for words to pour in from others, knowing that it is in words that one finds solace from grief.
In the morning, I woke up, took a shower, did the required puja, then cremated my father.
He looked calm and peaceful as I did the final rites. Dignified. Serene. But as his body went into the crematorium, I sat down on the ledge, and cried. There were people around me, pacifying me, hugging me. Through my tears, straight in my line of site, standing upright, her eyes unflinchingly upon me, was Sundari Chitti. She had a look of utmost sadness in her eyes. But it was not pity. Not a sadness for my loss, but a sadness with me. In those moments, through those tears, in her silent, unflinching, loving gaze, she was quietly enveloping me in her presence. And channeling his spirit into me. She was doing the work of a saint. Every time I looked up at her in those few minutes, I saw the depth and the clarity of her sadness, but I also felt a strength that served me through my loss. Sundari Chitti established a thread of continuity for me with Appa, one that is broken by her passing.
That thread continued for the next six years, as I slipped seamlessly, without any feeling of obligation, into Appa’s routines of seeing her whenever I went to Madras. I would visit her when I was younger, but this was different. I was now understanding, in some visceral sense, what she meant to my father. I found my heart welling with joy as I walked up the stairs to her flat in Warren Road; found myself enveloped in her warmth and grace; found myself borrowing some of Appa’s lines to gently tease her. Every time I left, I would look up to see her on the balcony, watching me leave. For days afterwards, I would feel a warm glow, a sense of completion. But also a sense of continuity, a sense of an unbroken thread from Appa’s life, one that had been weaved decades ago, preexisting my birth. It was instinctive for me to keep calling her Chitti, as she was to Appa, even though strictly speaking she was my Paatti. She never corrected me.
Every time I visited, Chitti would make one or two things. Either rose milk or therattipaal. Two things that were her specialty, two things that I loved, and that Appa loved. Her eyes would light up when I asked for seconds.
I saw her last September, after she had moved from her flat to Usha’s, by which time she was already in considerable pain. But she was still the gracious hostess, insisting on coming and sitting with me in the living room, bolt upright, as loving and affectionate and happy to see me as ever. Refusing to talk about her pain, asking me about my well-being and about everyone in my life.
Sundari Chitti is one of the most elegant, graceful and kind people I know. She helped bring my father up. She channeled his spirit towards me when he passed. In her quiet, understated manner, she filled the hearts of those who had the good fortune to be in her presence. It is hard to contemplate going to Madras and not seeing her.
She is a remarkable woman, and I miss her.